Among the guys I really enjoyed playing with was Dave LaRoche, who was traded to the Cleveland Indians during the 1975 Off-Season for another good pitcher, Milt Wilcox. The first time I saw him pitch was in his Yankee Stadium debut on July 19, 1970 when he was a rookie for the California Angels. He entered the game in relief in the eighth, taking over for Rudy May with a 5-2 lead. The first batter he faced was Horace Clarke, who grounded out. Then he struck out Bobby Murcer. In the ninth, he got Thurman Munson out. To me, getting Lemon and Tugboat out in your Yankee Stadium debut is a big deal. And that was Dave’s first major league save.
His Tribe debut was on April 12, 1975 in Milwaukee. It was the same day Dennis Eckersley made his major league debut. I was the starting pitcher that day, and I had nothing. Sometimes pitchers have days like that. I gave up a one-out walk to John Briggs, who reached third on Hank Aaron’s double. I intentionally walked the sometimes scary George Scott, and then Don Money hit an RBI single, scoring John. It could have been worse; I got the relay from Charlie Spikes in right and threw it to Johnny Ellis, the catcher, who tagged Hank out at home. Then it did get worse. Sixto Lezcano doubled, scoring George and moving Don to third. Charlie Moore, whom I wrote about on his birthday last month as being nearly impossible for me to get out, hit a two-run double. The Brewers led, 4-0. Frank Robinson pulled me in the bottom of the second after giving up a leadoff Home Run to Robin Yount and walking Bob Coluccio. Dave came in to pitch in the seventh – one of four pitchers the Tribe used that day – and he gave up no runs. But we lost, 6-5.
For a ballplayer, there are certain times in your career that you are part of history and don’t even know it. That’s what happened to me on April 12, 1975. I was the starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and we were playing the Brewers in Milwaukee – the first game of the season for me. I gave up four runs in the first inning, and after Robin Yount led off the second with a homer, followed by a walk to Bob Coluccio, Frank Robinson took me out. Jim Kern and Dave LaRoche pitched well in relief. In the bottom of the seventh, with one out and runners on first and third, Frank brought in a rookie pitcher named Dennis Eckersley to make his MLB debut. Eck walked Don Money to load the bases, then proceeded to get Sixto Lezcano and Charlie Moore out. Eck pitched the eighth, gave up a leadoff hit to Pedro Garcia. Then he struck out Yount, followed by outs for Mike Hegan and John Briggs. The Tribe lost the game 6-5, but Eck’s major league debut was outstanding.
You may remember Corbett Field in Tucson because some of the scenes from the movie Major League were filmed there. I was there on February 27, 1975, my first spring training with the Cleveland Indians, when I found out that Boog Powell was going to be my teammate. The Orioles traded him, along with pitcher Don Hood, for catcher Dave Duncan and a minor leaguer named Alvin McGrew. While I was sorry to see Dave go (the able Alan Ashby was waiting in the wings to become the starting catcher), I was excited to be playing on the same team as Boog. He was a fearsome, powerful hitter. I know this from experience – he had more RBI’s against me than any other major leaguer except Brooks Robinson and Paul Blair. He already had more than 300 career Home Runs before he came to Cleveland. In his first year with the Tribe, he hit 27 more homers, with 86 RBI’s and a .297 average. Outstanding!! I remember the first game I pitched with Boog on my side. It was April 12, 1975 at County Stadium in Milwaukee. He hit two Home Runs, with two walks and three RBI’s. I wasn’t quite so good. I gave up four runs in the first inning, and after Robin Yount led off the second with a homer, followed by a walk to Bob Coluccio, Frank Robinson took me out. The Brewers beat us 6-5.